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Keswick abandons plans for building

After two years of planning to erect an 18,690-square-foot building on its oak-canopied campus, a controversial move that angered some surrounding neighbors, Keswick Christian School has dropped its expansion plans.

Headmaster Shirley Owen said the decision to scrap the two-story structure from Keswick's renovation plans had nothing to do with funding the $2-million building, which would have increased the school's capacity from 700 to 1,200 students in prekindergarten through high school.

Rather, she said, it was a matter of priority. School officials decided to make other changes at the school at 10101 54th Ave. N, including installing a fence on the grounds on 54th Avenue, building a paved running track, improving drainage and paving dirt parking lots. Most of the work won't begin until the summer, she said.

"We stepped back and looked at everything one more time and we thought we needed to make these improvements," Mrs. Owen said Thursday. "We just felt that this would be a better thing to do. I'm going to venture to say that this particular building as planned will not be built."

The school, which began in an old farmhouse on the 27-acre campus in 1953, will present its site plans to the city's Development Review Board at 7 p.m. Nov. 19 at Seminole Community Library.

When school officials announced their expansion plans in 1999, they said the new building would be the first step in a long-range plan to rebuild the campus. They said it would house administrative offices, classrooms and a state-of-the-art media center, patterned after the one at the Seminole campus of St. Petersburg College.

But the announcement wasn't well received by some neighbors, who worried the expansion would damage the look of the neighborhood. Some residents complained that the additional students would generate more traffic and noise.

"That sounds good to me," said Robert Kaniss after hearing the building project had been canceled.

Kaniss, who lives near the school, said an artist's rendering of the proposed project showed an attractive building. "It's a first-class operation, but it's not a first-class operation for a residential neighborhood," he said Friday.

Kaniss wondered if the school was planning to sell its property now that it has abandoned its expansion plan.

Keswick has no plans to sell its property, Mrs. Owen said. "We're staying right here," she said.

A few years ago, Keswick was annexed into Seminole. When it was in unincorporated Pinellas County, the school's property was zoned for residential use. Last year, the school successfully lobbied the city to change its zoning classification from residential to public/semipublic, a designation the city uses for churches and schools.

Mitch Bobowski, the city's general services director, recommended the change, saying it was only a technicality because the property had been operating as a public use, even though the land was classified as residential.

But some residents who live near the school feared the zoning change would allow too much development at the campus. Marilyn Dewitt, who lives three houses from the school property, was against Keswick's expansion plans.

"Oh really, I'm quite happy to hear that," she said Friday when hearing the two-story building was no longer in the works. "That's surprising, but maybe upsetting the neighborhood wasn't worth it. If you look at it rationally, it just isn't the kind of thing for a residential neighborhood."